❉ The Terrahawks return to Big Finish in this new audiobook reading.
Certain corners of the Gerry Anderson fandom would have you believe that September 1976 was the period when Gerry’s career went off the rails and was unable to recover. This was when Space: 1999’s divisive second series first aired, and from there, a slew of productions came and went that continue to garner a Marmite reputation amongst the fandom. One such property some fans love to hate is Terrahawks, the maniacal, Supermacromation sci-fi adventure series that undoubtedly made people sit up and take note of Anderson after a period of inactivity in his career. Whilst the original series is a relative staple of 80s children’s television, Anderson Entertainment continue to do their utmost to revitalise Terrahawks into a new, multi-media brand. These efforts consist of an audio continuation of the original series, a web series (that sadly only ever had a single episode), a new TV reboot on the way, a novelisation and now this newly released audiobook, Expect the Unexpected.
One of four newly released titles as part of the Gerry Anderson Audio Collection (with more titles to follow), the continued presence of new media like this suggests that Anderson Entertainment is keen to make Terrahawks the jewel in their crown, at least whilst newer productions such as Firestorm continue to be worked on. Whilst the trio of Big Finish series are some of the greatest stories to bear the name ‘Gerry Anderson’ and news of the forthcoming Kate Kestral and the Terrahawks series remains exciting, this audiobook reading of Jack Curtis’ novelisation of the original series’ two-part opener is an unfortunate misfire.
To be blunt, this audiobook rendition of Expect the Unexpected is… dull. Rather dull. The madcap energy of the original series simply isn’t present here. This isn’t due to the fact that the visual element has been removed. As mentioned, the Big Finish series are utterly superb in how they embrace the original series’ surreal attitude. Here, it’s more a case of Terrahawks not functioning as effectively in prose format as it does in other mediums. Hearing Robbie Stevens read Curtis’ novelisation aloud only serves to highlight the blandness of the proceedings. Whilst it’s pleasing to hear Stevens slip back into the Terrahawks characters he performed in the original series, such as Yungstar, Hudson and Space Sargent 101, Stevens himself sounds unenthused. He plays things in a very straight, static manner. No frills, no exaggerations. For a series that was all about the frills and the exaggeration, it comes off as less than engaging.
Curtis’ style of writing is by no means sub-par, however. Throughout this debut mission for the Terrahawks as they encounter the villainous Zelda for the first time when she claims her new home on Mars and launches her campaign of terror against the Earth, he writes with an economical cleanness and fills in moments of introspection for the characters that the original TV rendition otherwise didn’t allow. But his narrative style is also quite rigid and serious, failing to connect with the humour that makes Terrahawks such a distinctive venture in Anderson’s back catalogue of productions. Similarly, it’s surreal to hear Stevens voice all the remaining Terrahawks characters. His take on Zelda and Sgt. Major Zero is oddly languid, devoid of the characteristic punch given by Denise Bryer and Windsor Davies (and later Jeremy Hitchen in the audio continuation).
Story-wise, this adaptation follows the same beats as the original two-part series opener, and whilst the bulk of this audiobook reinterprets the original TV series’ two-parter, another TV episode is incorporated. The events of Happy Madeday, an earlier standalone episode, are slipped into this production, its narrative context rejigged so that it may follow on from the events of Expect the Unexpected as swiftly as possible. The inclusion of this standalone story is an oddity, as it lends an awkward pace to this audiobook’s refashioning of these TV episodes into a single series of events. Surely integrating Thunder Roar, another standalone episode but one that purposefully follows on from the events of Expect the Unexpected, would be a more natural choice. The inclusion of Happy Madeday is random and jarring in the context of this reimagined narrative. There’s a sense that the choice to include Happy Madeday is to cement a loose subplot of Tiger Ninestein’s relationship with the Sgt Major, a constant source of humour from the original series in how Ninestein expresses his regret and annoyance at the Zeroids being given lively personalities. These three episodes have that clash between the pair bubbling away beneath the surface of the main stories, but whilst Curtis’ narrative replicates those classic scenes note for note, it doesn’t expand upon them at any huge length.
Expect the Unexpected plays things safe and is an easy-going experience. But with its morally ambiguous lead hero in Dr Tiger Ninestein, transgender villains and tongue-in-cheek story-telling, Terrahawks is by no means a safe or easy-going Anderson production to experience. Terrahawks’ rampant energy and wry sense of humour always made it a standout Gerry Anderson series, its overall personality reflected in the title of this very story, which has gone on to become a catchphrase synonymous with the series itself. This audiobook edition of Expect the Unexpected fails to embrace these appealing qualities of Terrahawks and ultimately just doesn’t compliment what makes Terrahawks so unique.
❉ ‘Terrahawks: Expect the Unexpected’ by Jack Curtis, read by Robbie Stevens, is available via the Big Finish website, RRP £5.99. This title is download only.
❉ Fred McNamara is a contributing writer for a variety of digital and print publications, covering comic books, films, TV and more. His work has appeared on such websites as PopMatters, WhatCulture, Flickering Myth, Grovel, the Official Gerry Anderson Blog, ScreenRelish, and in such publications as Starburst Magazine, Andersonic and Comic Scene. His work has also appeared in anthologies published by Watching Books and Who Dares Publishing.